Saturday, March 31, 2007

March Playlist (with downloads!)

I don't know if anyone actually wants music downloads from me, but I figured hey, why not. These are the songs I've been in love with lately. It's a bit of a melancholy set of songs but then again, I think March is a bit of a melancholy month. And like March it ends on an cheerful note. Anyway you should download them because they're good songs. I swear.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Avenue A

Outside a bodega:

Pyramid Club:

Daffodils and croci in Tompkins Square Park:

Tables outside Horus Cafe:

Between 12th and 13th Streets:

Kushiel's ________

So, some years ago--and by some I mean about five--my friend Natalie recommended Kushiel's Dart to me. Despite the fact that Natalie is one of those people who always recommends good books, and despite the fact that Natalie and I have always enjoyed some of the same books, I never got around to actually reading it. Then, earlier this year, I picked up a free copy of Kushiel's Scion which is the first book in the new Kushiel trilogy. Anyway, I should have gotten my act together and read these years ago because they're really enjoyable. It's hardly literary fiction in disguise a la John Crowley or Jonathan Carroll, but it's quality, well-written fantasy: intricately plotted, interesting, and original. It's got a bit of that fantasy-land language going on which I could live without but it's kept under control and doesn't really become an annoyance. And it's mercifully free of dragons, sorcerers, and all such done-to-death things.

As anyone with a passing familiarity with fantasy knows, the cover art tends to leave something to be desired. By which I mean it's the sort of stuff you're embarrassed to take out in public. Kind of like bodice rippers. The Kushiel art is thankfully rather above that level. The cover art is done by John Jude Palencar, who also does the art for many Charles de Lint books. A brief google search tells me that he's best known for doing the covers of Eragon and it's sequel, but the chances of my ever reading that are nil, so I was unaware of this. Let's face it, it takes all of one paragraph to realize that Eragon is poorly written crap. I was generous and gave it four before the urge to stab my eyes out got too strong. But anyway, back to Palencar. I actually have always liked his work for de Lint's books. He has a talent for the surreal and slightly meditative, which suits those books perfectly. It's classy art for a classy writer. What's more, his paintings of women lack the exploitative quality that so much fantasy has, which is perfect for a novelist who writes women as well as de Lint.

I wish his work was as effective for Carey's novels, but the truth is, I kind of hate it. First off, I'm totally bored with the main-character-stands-or-sits-contemplatively theme. She's not even the main character in the fourth book. Do something else. Please. Second, she's supposed to be incredibly beautiful and yet her face looks, well, kind of funny. I don't know if it's the jaw or the cheekbones or the forehead or what, but something is just not right there. Third, what's with the fabric? It's incredibly heavy, thick, and stiff looking. In Kushiel's Avatar the bottom of the skirt actually looks like stone. She's supposed to be sexy and clothing that looks like stone? So not sexy. I have more quibblers for I am a quibbler, but you get the point.

Nevertheless, when my biggest annoyance is the cover art, I suppose it's safe to say I enjoyed the books. These were the first books in a long while I stayed up all night to read.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Prelude to a Kiss

My cousin and her fiancée were in town briefly so I went out last night with them and my grandmother, who is very excited at the prospect of adding a new granddaughter to the family. Narrowly avoiding eating at Applebees (because there's seriously no reason to eat there when you live in New York) we had a very nice dinner. She wanted me to choose the restaurant which I wasn't really prepared to do. I don't really know the Bway/Times Square area that well so I can't pick restaurants off the top of my head. The only place I could think of was Saigon 48--which is very good, and very cheap should you be in the area--but I couldn't remember its location. I'd forgotten the 48 bit of the name. We ended up eating at West Bank Cafe which was just expensive enough that I wouldn't have suggested it myself for fear of imposing. My grandmother would never say no, so I try not to put her in a position where she might. It was great though--particularly the desserts--so I'm very glad we went there instead of Applebees.

I knew nothing about Prelude to a Kiss and hadn't really had a particular interest in seeing it, although I also wasn't disinterested. It's kind of Freaky Friday except the body switchers aren't related and one of them doesn't immediately want to switch back. Anyway, it's decidedly mediocre and I imagine that there are two reasons it's been popular: a) It stars the guy who played Frasier Crane's father b) it's got a happy ending which the old ladies around us seemed to appreciate quite a bit.

Less appreciative, was the forty-something year old man sitting behind us. At one point the young and fairly freaked-out groom kisses Frasier's Daddy who is really his wife in another body. He loves his wife and it makes total sense for him to do this in the context of the play. Furthermore, it's not exactly the kind of kiss that leads to people jumping into bed sans clothing and getting down to business. But clearly these things didn't matter much to forty-something who said, "Ewww," so loudly that half the theater must have heard him. Seriously? What are you, seven? Grow up. Probably some tourist from Omaha. I certainly hope so anyway.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


With spring upon us the weather here has been quite nice. On Sunday I went ice skating at Central Park with Wendy. We've been planning to go for ages but things kept coming up--like my sprained ankle which is getting better rather slowly. Despite a rink full of somewhat dangerous skaters it was a good time. It's lovely to be skating and have the city rising all around you. New York is beautiful from Central Park which is something I always forget because I go there so rarely.

With the warmer weather I've also been trying to get out and about for walks. These pictures are from today.

Anshe Meseritz Synagogue:

St. Marks on the Bowery:

Grace Church:

The magnolia is just beginning to flower. I'll try to get better pictures in a week or so when it's in full bloom. The courtyard of the church is very pretty then.

$1 books outside Strand:

13th Street and Broadway:

This wall used to be painted with an advertisement for rum, filled with scantily clad, buxom women. I think this is much more entertaining. Crunch always seems to have good advertising. When I first moved to the city--nearly five years ago now--they were giving out little trial membership cards that said, "YES, MY ASS FEELS SPONGY!"

Where I bought dinner:

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Journey's End

It seems to be grandparents week here, as yesterday was my monthly dinner and a show date with my grandmother (different grandmother than I saw earlier in the week). We ate at a rather expensive Indian restaurant we've been to before. The service is better than the places on 6th street and the food is served on nicer dishes, but frankly it's not worth paying 4 times more. Particularly when my grandmother insists on getting appetizers and desert and whatnot.

Journey's End has gotten great reviews but apparently those haven't translated into great ticket sales because the theater was far from full. That was good for us though because it meant our seats got upgraded quite a bit. We always go for the cheap seats--although granted it's all relative on Broadway--so it's a nice surprise to be moved up to the somewhat less cheap seats. Between that and the fact that it was a very good play, it was obviously an evening meant to go our way. My grandmother got to make her, "Bush should be forced to watch this again and again until he learns something," comments and I think that only added to her day. It seems to make her happy any time she can insult the louse. At the same time though, I always have to suppress a laugh at the idea she seems to have that reading something or seeing a play could possibly change him. Thinking about it more closely though, I think it's a sad thing if such works can't change people.

I was particularly interested in seeing this one because I have a bit of a thing for World War I. I don't mean that I know a lot about the history or anything. But I love poetry and novels about the war. I wouldn't say that I'm an outright pacifist, but quite close, and it's partially because of reading this stuff. I remember reading All Quiet on the Western Front when I was quite young and certainly that played a role, but mostly I think it was the War Poets first: writers like Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Isaac Rosenberg. (Their poetry is available here.) Sassoon's "A Soldier's Declaration" was also an influence because it forced me to look at what I'd always thought of as--and been told was--a "good war" in another light.

I think it was Pat Barker's Regeneration that did me in, though. This scene in particular, although it may not seem significant out of context. I don't know. Rivers is a doctor treating shell-shocked soldiers in a military hospital, and David Burns is a former patient whom he goes to visit. He finds Burns to remain quite unwell. While he's visiting, there's a storm.
The more Rivers thought about Burns sitting alone in the kitchen, the more he thought he ought to get up. The sounds of the storm had now been joined by running footsteps. He wouldn't find it easy to sleep again anyway.
.......The kitchen was empty and didn't seem to have been disturbed since last night. He told himself that he'd been mistaken and Burns was still in bed. By now rather anxious, perhaps unreasonably so, he went upstairs and peered into Burns's room. The bedclothes had been pushed back and the bed was empty.
.......He had no idea what he should do. For all he knew midnight walks--or rather three am walks--were a habit of Burns's when the nights were particularly bad. Surely he wouldn't go out in this. Rivers heard shouts, followed by more running footsteps. Obviously other people were out in it.

Rivers goes out into the storm to look for Burns, and is unable to find him in the town. Directed by a woman also out in the rain, he walks along the edge of a tidal river, surrounded by marshy land, toward a tower he'd been to earlier in his visit.
Looking at the tower, Rivers thought again how squat and unimpressive it was, and yet how menacing. A resemblance that had merely nagged him before returned to his mind with greater force. This waste of mud, these sump holes reflecting a dim light at the sky, even that tower. It was like France. Like the battlefields. A resemblance greater by night than by day, perhaps, because here, by day, you could see things grow, and there nothing grew.
.......He groped his way into the moat, steadying himself against the wall. It was so wet, so cold, so evil-smelling, that he thought perhaps the tide had already reached it's height and was now falling. At first he could see nothing, but then the moon came out from behind a bank of cloud, and he saw Burns huddled against the moat wall. Rivers called 'David' and realized he was shouting when there was no need. Even the howl of the storm sounded subdued in the shelter of the moat. He touched Burns's arm. He neither moved nor blinked. He was staring up at the tower, which gleamed white, like the bones of a skull.
.......'Come on, David.'
.......His body felt like a stone. Rivers got hold of him and held him, coaxing, rocking. He looked up at the tower that loomed squat and menacing above them and thought, Nothing justifies this. Nothing nothing nothing. Burns's body remained rigid in his arms. Rivers was aware that if it came to a fight he might not win. Burns was terribly emaciated, but he was also thirty years younger. His surrender, when it came, was almost shocking. Suddenly his body had the rag-doll floppiness of the newborn. He collapsed against Rivers and started to shake, and from there it was possible to half lead, half push him out of the moat and up on to the relative safety of the path.

Now, I wasn't so naive that I didn't know about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or that war had mental and emotional consequences for the soldier. But it's one thing to hear about it or read about it, and another entirely for a piece of writing to allow you to truly form a picture of such a thing in your mind. And it was from reading things like this that I came to feel that war was beyond the realm of what should be acceptable in our lives.

So I suppose that literature had the effect on me that my grandmother wishes it could have on someone like Bush. The power of fiction, whether Regeneration or Journey's End is that it allows us to expand the boundaries of our understanding--to a certain extent--past that which we actually know. And while I've always rolled my eyes and thought it fairly ridiculous when someone says a song or a book, "changed [their] life," I do think such things can have a cumulative effect on a person's outlook, if they're willing to let it happen.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage

I was introduced to Alice Munro in high school and read her Selected Stories. In Canada I think she's pretty much required reading (that's the impression I've always gotten anyway) but not so much in the US. Something in her writing that is sufficiently un-American I think, in outlook or mode of expression. I've never thought anything of it beyond that. What I love is the completeness of the world she creates in each small story; I always believe completely in her settings and in the reality of her characters. They feel like bone and blood and flesh despite what I think of as a certain kind of reserve in her writing. I can't think of anyone who handles the short story better. I didn't actually love the stories in this book the way I loved some of her others, but despite that, the way she limns the relationships between people is brilliant. This is from The Bear Came Over the Mountain:

Over a year ago Grant had started noticing so many yellow notes stuck up all over the house. That was not entirely new. She'd always written things down--the title of a book she'd heard mentioned on the radio or the jobs she wanted to make sure she did that day. Even her morning schedule was written down--he found it mystifying and touching in its precision.

7 a.m. Yoga. 7:30-7:45 teeth face hair. 7:45-8:15 walk. 8:15 Grant and Breakfast.

The new notes were different. Taped onto the kitchen drawers--Cutlery, Dishtowels, Knives. Couldn't she have just opened the drawers and seen what was inside? He remembered a story about the German soldiers on border patrol in Czechoslovakia during the war. Some Czech had told him that each of the patrol dogs wore a sign that said Hund. Why? said the Czechs, and the Germans said, Because that is a hund.

He was going to tell Fiona that, then thought he'd better not. They always laughed at the same things, but suppose this time she didn't laugh.

Anyway, I'm glad I had someone to introduce me to her writing.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Italian Dish

My grandfather has been, let us say, bothered that I don't call more often. I don't call anyone, so I don't feel particularly guilty about this. I feel even less guilty when he has other people call to nag me about not calling him. I may be nag-free for a while though--yeah right--as I went out with him and my grandmother last night. A friend of theirs does a cabaret-type show so I met them after work and we went out for dinner and then to her show.

The show was at a new cultural center at the South Street Seaport. I've actually never been there or, really, considered going there. We ate at a nice enough Italian restaurant though, where we were served by a pleasant waitress with an Eastern European accent. Not much atmosphere and it was quite empty (as was the whole area, no real surprise on a Tuesday night) which I hate in a restaurant, but the food was good. I was informed that my grandfather called his mother every day even though she never called him. I rolled my eyes. Dinner proceeded smoothly. I actually love seeing them for all I complain about the nagging.

Anyway, the friend who does the cabaret show is someone my grandfather met at his gym and she obviously loves the performing. The show is called Italian Dish and features her little stories about songs mixed in with songs about food. Her enthusiasm made it fun and I thought the show as a whole was very charming.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

I've been glancing through Richard Wright's Haiku lately. It was recommended to me a year ago in a writing class and I've just never gotten around to actually looking at it. Even now I feel like I don't have the mental energy to really appreciate poetry. My job isn't the least bit difficult but I find it draining despite--or perhaps because of--that fact. It's also pretty much destroyed my work ethic.

Anyway, though, his haiku is really lovely. Also, actual haiku. I've read a lot of 3-line poems that are referred to as haiku by their writers when, in fact, they conform to neither the form or the subject matter. I'm not particularly a purist, but if it doesn't follow one or the other shouldn't it just be considered a 3-line poem? So I like that his are real haikus. And the shortness of the form makes it something I can handle right now. Even beyond the mere fact of its shortness I feel like there's something tremendously appealing about three line poems in general and haiku in particular.

Here are a couple of Wright's:

.......From an icy quay:
When her ship heaves into sight,
.......The sea disappears.

.......After a meeting
Held in the corner garden,
.......The leaves scattered.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Oh the Places You'll Go

I went to see Stephanie Elizondo Griest read/speak at McNally Robinson today. Her book is titled 100 Places Every Woman Should Go and she's certainly the most enthusiastic author I've ever seen. Seems very pleasant and like a lovely person. The topic of the book is something I'm of two minds on. On the one hand, yes it's great for a woman to travel. On the other hand, why should women go to places because they're women? Why shouldn't both men and women go to these places? After all, I might want to go to places in a book entitled 100 Places Every Man Should Go should such a book exist. There's a lot more thought and nuance in the subject, of course, but you can see where I'm coming from, no? I do not want my travel to be gender-determined.

I think part of the problem for me might be that I'm not so into the idea my womanhood. I don't mean femininity by that but the idea that I'm part of a community of women. I don't think of other women as my sisters--except for my real sister, of course--nor do I think I have some kind of bond with other women solely due to the fact that we have two X chromosomes. The touchy-feely aspect just doesn't work for me. Along a similar vein, Griest talked quite a bit about "mother road" and while I've traveled a bit I can't say I've ever thought of travelling in terms of trusting to "mother road" or something of that sort. Mainly because I think that sort of stuff is kind of crap.

This sounds critical and I don't really mean it to be. It's just a difference in outlook. There were other things that I did like and/or agree with. Relying upon the kindness of strangers when on the road, for example. Certainly I've experienced that and it's something that's stayed with me.

There did seem to be some interesting and helpful advice (certainly she had interesting and helpful things to say) and I think I'll go check the book out in the bookstore. Much of the information might be more for my sister than me, I think. I've got a job to worry about and can't really go travelling. I'm sure I could if I wanted to live a nomadic life of sorts but I'm too much of a homebody for that.

Explosions in the Night and Other Happenings

There was what sounded like an explosion at three in the morning yesterday. I was having trouble sleeping anyway but succeeded in throwing water all over myself. Immediately after the bang, smoke started seeping in the windows--which were all open because maintenance is apparently trying to roast us alive and my apartment is absurdly hot--and there were sirens all over the damn place. From my roommate's window you could see smoke pouring out of an open manhole on the street. Occasionally there would be a sound like fireworks and sparks would come flying out.

There were two firetrucks worth of firemen trekking around the street and my apartment complex. A bit of a funny sight, because the only time I normally see firemen is in Key Foods. They park their truck on my street and there'll be six of them in the grocery store in their big fireman outfits trying to decide how much milk they need to buy because, "you know some jerk's going to have cereal in the morning and use more than his fair share."

It seems that the firemen decided it wasn't their responsibility because they called Con Ed and after talking to the men in the Con Ed truck, were on their way. The Con Ed men called a bigger Con Ed truck (Con Ed's version of S.W.A.T., my roommate says) and all the Con Ed employees proceeded to look very unhappy. I wasn't all that happy myself so I can't say I was too sympathetic to them. They'd been working on that part of the steet earlier in the year--complete with jackhammering at ridiculous hours, or course--so it's probably something they messed up themselves anyway.

Either way, I don't know what was wrong but they didn't finish fixing it until this evening.

On Sunday I went to see The Lives of Others. It was really very good. Better than I'd expected actually. I almost assumed it wouldn't have a satisfying ending and that's really not the case at all. Between this and Democracy, which I saw in London a couple years ago, one comes away quite impressed, in a disturbing manner, with the capability of the Stasi.


What was particularly interesting to me though was that, while one (Democracy) is based on actual historical fact and the other, to my knowledge, is not, both center on spies who grow fond--even admiring--of the men they spy upon. In Democracy, for all the spy's admiration for his subject, he is loyal to his job. It is only in the fictional story that the Stasi member is free to save his subject, betraying the Stasi for the sake of a man he has come to like and respect. And despite this betrayal--or should one say choice of loyalties?--he remains unexposed to his subject. He sacrifices his career as well for the sake of a man he has never spoken to. One difference between fiction and reality there?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Host (and Hosting)

My roommate and I went to see The Host last night. It was playing at the theater near us and had gotten good reviews so we ventured out. We spend most of our Friday nights sitting at home doing nothing of particular import so we were a bit proud of ourselves. Also, while I am definitely not, she's a bit of a horror movie aficionado. She's been promising to have me watch Them for about five years now. One of these days. Anyway, for all that I don't normally do monster movies, The Host was fabulous. Funny and smart and featuring a totally awesome little girl. It wasn't perfect, and I thought some scenes could be cut down a bit, but it was really very enjoyable. I think that was pretty much the general opinion too because the crowd had a bit of a buzz to it as we were leaving and was very chatty. I always like that kind of atmosphere at the movie theater because if you don't have that why not just watch the movie while sitting on your couch at home and not paying $10.75 which is frankly ridiculous.

Actually the other reason I like to see movies in the theater is that I'm not a good movie watcher when I'm at home. I get up and walk around in circles. I make myself food. I try to read at the same time and miss key plot points. I take breaks every five minutes to do something else like organize my iTunes library. Which all goes to explain why it took me a month to finish watching His Girl Friday. It would be more fun to say that I had to limit my viewing of Rosalind Russell's ridiculous hat, but the truth is that I've got the attention span of a five year old when it comes to watching movies these days. I finally finished it today, along with cleaning my room.

While I cleaned my room (which was truly awful) my roommate--being the neater of the two of us--cleaned the rest of the apartment and tackled the dish pile from hell. We're not going to win any good housekeeping awards in the near future--the food gone bad in our fridge can attest to that--but the apartment looks pretty good right now.

I was excited because my sister, who I don't get to see very often, was coming into town today. Her flight from Alaska was landing in Newark so she got a ride into the city and then took a train out. She came over to my apartment to eat and use the shower and then we met up with her boyfriend and some of their friends. We hung out with them for a bit, walking from Greenwich Village, where I've never spent much time for some reason despite having gone to school right there, to Union Square. Then she and her boyfriend went for a walk and the friends went for a different walk. While the friends seemed very nice, I can wander around New York in the rain anytime, so I headed home. They were redezvousing at my apartment so while waiting for them I made tea and read The New York Review of Books online.

It was nice to see her but also sad that I got to see so little of her. So now I'm feeling a bit down. And I have to do laundry.We're at that stage where there's simply no choice. I haven't done any in three weeks and I don't have enough clothing to last and longer. I also don't have anywhere to put the dirty laundry. So that's the way my morning's going to go. After that I think I'm going to have a totally self-indulgent day. I'm going to go to Pommes Frites for lunch and then in the afternoon I'm going to take myself off to the Angelika to see The Lives of Others and get myself movie popcorn. And then I'm going to take myself off to the grocery store and buy piles of health food because I can feel my arteries closing up just thinking about it.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

"There's just so much reality out there."

I went to the Barnes & Noble on 6th and 22nd today to see William T. Vollman read from his new book, Poor People. Seems like a nice guy, incidentally. Took the time to speak to people while he was signing books and personalize the books with little drawings. Anyway, the book was published by Ecco, which is an imprint that I think puts out really interesting stuff. It's basically a series of vignettes in which Vollman speaks to poor people, which is pretty much as depressing as it sounds. Here's the end bit of what he read:

She didn't know anything.

Do you have some dream for your future?

Yawning, head now listless on her little fist, she said: I just want to go back home.

I gave her what she said she needed to go back home on, guessing that tomorrow and the next day she'd still be there, and then I asked her: In your idea, why are some people rich and some people poor?

I think I am rich, she said dully.

She was already slipping into death, and perhaps had never been alive; by which I don't mean that she might not eke out another twenty or fifty semiconscious years. The last I saw of her, she was sitting sideways in her place just outside the railroad station entrance, clutching her white plastic bag of belongings beside her, not looking anybody in the face.

There was a little girl at the reading, with one or both of her parents. I don't know. She was wearing a puffy red jacket and a frilly red skirt over jeans lined in pink flannel and cuffed about an inch-and-a-half. While Vollman read, she lay under one of the CD stands and looked at the pictures in an oversized Winnie the Pooh book.

After reading, Vollman took quite a number of questions. A few that I remember...On whether writing the book was a way of dealing with seeing such horrible things: No, it was harder to write the book and is harder to read it. When actually there you're thinking about more practical things and have no time to focus on the sadness of it. In response to, "Is poverty inevitable or is it possible to 'make poverty history'": He thinks that poverty is inevitable because one type of poverty is relative poverty and people will only be unequal. Russian beggars he spoke to talked about how, under communism, everyone was poor. So perhaps you could eliminate 'poverty' by making everyone poor. (Doesn't seem like a good option to me.) When asked to explain the great range of his books: "There's just so much reality out there. I'm interested in everything."

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Towers of Trebizond

This is another Strand sidewalk sale book. The edition I have was published in 1960, four years after it was published in the UK I believe. It looks like the most recent publication was in 2003 by the New York Review of Books. Written by Rose Macaulay, whom I had never heard of. Apparently she published thirty-five books. Wikipedia tells us:

The Towers of Trebizond, Macaulay's final novel, is generally regarded as her masterpiece. Strongly autobiographical, it treats with wistful humour and deep sadness the attractions of mystical Christianity, and the irremediable conflict between adulterous love and the demands of the Christian faith.

Reviewers have described Macaulay as "one of the few significant English novelists of the twentieth century to identify herself as a Christian and to use Christian themes in her writing." Rose Macaulay was never a simple believer in "mere Christianity," however, and her writings reveal a more complex, mystical sense of the divine.

This is far more information than the book itself provides, as the publishers (Meridian Books) have committed what I, as a book buyer, consider one of the cardinal sins of cover copy. They haven't provided any information on what the book is about. On the front they have the title and, "a novel by Rose Macaulay," and on the back they have quotes and information on the publishing company. So looking at the back I know that, "all Meridian Fiction publications are contemporary works of literary distinction deserving the broader readership made possible by paperback editions," but I don't know anything about the plot of the book.

The quotes on the back provide confusion as much as anything else. In the New York Herald Tribune, Maurice Dolbier--this dates the book as the Herald Tribune folded in the 1960s, modern editions merely quote Dolbier without mentioning the publication--tells us that, "The Towers of Trebizond is not an encyclopedia in disguise. It is a novel, and a good one." Well that's nice to hear, but why on earth do I need to be told that it's not, "an encyclopedia in disguise?" Maybe when it was published this description made a lot of sense. But now? Perhaps by people who know more about books than I do. For me, digging through boxes of books, this was a statement more confusing than anything else. Which isn't so bad when you're paying fifty cents for a book but would otherwise annoy me to no end. Either way, it doesn't exactly sell me on the thing.

So I bought the book solely on the strength of the first few sentences. Which are fabulous.

"Take the camel, dear," said my aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass. The camel, a white Arabian Dhalur (single hump) from the famous herd of the Ruola tribe, had been a parting present, its saddle-bags stuffed with low-carat gold and flashy orient gems, from a rich desert tycoon who owned a Levantine hotel near Palmyra. I always thought it to my aunt's credit that, in view of the camel's provenance, she had not named in Zenobia, Longinus, or Aurelian, as lesser women would have done; she had instead, always called it, in a distant voice, my camel, or the camel.

Monday, March 05, 2007

More on Julie & Julia

If reading Julie & Julia has taught me one thing it's that I don't need to own Mastering the Art of French Cooking. And maybe that I don't feel any particular interest in either Julie or Julia. Although of the two, I like Julie a good bit better despite her constant shots at Republicans. Hey, I'm a Democrat too, and I'm not particularly tolerant of conservative politics in all their various guises, but I'm not about to label half the country with the Bad Person brush solely because of their political affiliation, nor do I think that some people are nice folks despite their political affiliation. I would prefer politics to be left out of light books about cooking dated French cuisine.

What the book doesn't acknowledge--and what put's me right off the cookbook itself--is the undeniable snobbery of French cooking. Or at least of the kind of French cooking in this cookbook (after all I'm sure there's another, simpler, sort of French cooking). It's without a doubt something that is not accessible to just anyone. The dishes are time-consuming and expensive so unless you have both the desire and financial wherewithal to devote so much time and money to your food you're pretty much out of luck. I don't actually have a problem with expensive or time-consuming food. But I'd damn well prefer that it be served to me in a nice restaurant. And to be honest, even then, it wouldn't be my first choice.

The real problem, however, is that I just don't like most of the food described. Eating things loaded with butter makes me imagine my arteries closing up. I don't like organ meats and would be a happy camper if I could go through life without eating brains. I won't eat veal. I don't like mustard, or mayonnaise. Even if I did like seafood, the idea of vivisecting a lobster (Homard à L'Americaine) is not for me. So the book was pretty much a constant gross-out for me. Between that and my roommate showing me photos of various diseases in advances states it was a vaguely disgusting day for me.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

What the Frick?

There's no point resisting a terrible pun when it presents itself. I think we should just embrace the punny. Today I also needed to embrace a trip to the Frick Collection with my maternal grandmother to see the George Stubbs exhibition.

It was a gorgeous day today: warm, sunny, and springlike. On days like this I'd rather not be inside. I come up with some sort of errand that requires me to walk a long way and then just walk around the city. It's one of my favorite things about living here. I'd committed to seeing my grandmother though so I walked over the the 6 at Bleeker and headed for the Upper East Side.

Before arriving though, I needed to experience the joy that is weekend subway travel. The show for today was Out-of-His-Frickin'-Mind featuring Man-in-Big-Gray-Hoodie. He got on somewhere around 14th and proceeded to freak everyone around him out. About once a minute he would clap his hands loudly and say--in a preacher-type voice--something like, "just chill," or, "we need more pepper for these fucking cheeseburgers," all the while looking around with crazy eyes. Big guy too. The little old lady sitting next to me with the shawl over her head and a cane looked over at me and did the totally nuts finger twirl thing. I had a rare moment in which I actually liked little old ladies.

As it turned out, my grandmother was running pretty late and I spent about half an hour sitting on the steps to the Frick and reading. It's a pretty building with some nice little grounds.

Anyway the Stubbs exhibit was nice if heavily symbolic paintings of animals (see right) and idyllic English countryside scenes--also with animals--are your thing. Upon seeing that particular picture my grandmother said, "Well I wouldn't want to hang that in my living room. Or anywhere." Which is exactly what my mother would say. These charming horse and lion paintings were apparently a reaction to Edmund Burke's notion of the Sublime (capital 's' please) which demanded a mix of beauty and terror. I was actually familiar with this idea of the Sublime from reading Passage to Juneau which made me feel like quite the smartypants. Anyway, as a fan of neither symbolism nor idealized country scenes in which people happily reap grain in fine clothing I was glad the exhibition was short. I can be interested in that stuff, but only in small doses.

Since neither of us had ever been to the Frick we looked around the permanent collection as well. I'd always thought of the Frick as a rather staid and serious museum and apparently I was not mistaken. Lots of portraits of finely dressed ladies. In front of each one my grandmother would comment on whether or not the lady looked happy, sad, or what have you and saying things like, "Gawd, look at that jewelry. Good grief auntie." I really might as well just have been at the museum with my mother.

By the time we left it had cooled down considerably outside and we walked over to a little bakery for a late lunch. I don't think I've ever been to a bakery with ruder staff. You suck, Corrado Bread & Pastry!

My sister is in Alaska right now and going to see the start of the Iditarod tomorrow. Such adventure! I'm so jealous I could vomit.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Up Close and Impersonal

I was planning on going out and doing some stuff this evening, but when I got home I discovered that my roommate's parents were over and her mother was cooking dinner. Since home cooked meals trump pretty much anything in my world I figured it was a good night to stay in. So today, it's pictures of my apartment. Yay?